An Immigrant Home Away from Home
When Sherlandy Pardieu arrived in Boston from Haiti three years ago, he was placed into the district’s only high school designed to serve immigrant students.
Sherlandy knew almost right away that it was a special place. The school’s nearly 400 students come from 40 countries and speak 25 languages.
“This school is amazing,” he says. “It’s nice to be around people who are so open to you.”
“There’s something beautiful about this school,” says student Ronald Francois, who is also from Haiti. “All the different communities know how to fit in, and know how to talk to one another without hurting anyone.”
Classroom Learning and Language Acquisition
Boston International High School and Newcomers Academy, known as BINcA, provides a college-preparatory curriculum for its students—all of them English language learners (ELLs).
Newcomers Academy is a special program run alongside the high school that provides support to students with interrupted formal education, known as SIFE students, and those who are newly arrived to America.
SIFE programming is available in Spanish, Haitian, and Cape Verdean.
Newcomers Academy students are exposed to a Sheltered English Immersion curriculum focused on accelerating their language acquisition. Students are in the program for one year (two for SIFE students), and then can choose to attend any Boston high school.
Many students choose to remain at BINcA.
From Peace Corps to Headmaster
The school’s headmaster, Tony King, marvels at the resilience and spirit of his students. He says students find tremendous value in being part of such a diverse learning community.
“They like going through the common experience of becoming an American,” he says.
A native Iowan, Tony has his own interesting path to BINcA. After graduating from the University of Iowa, he joined the Peace Corps to teach in the Cape Verde Islands. While there, he learned about Boston’s large Cape Verdean population, and decided to come to study education as a graduate student in the city.
Tony then taught in the Boston Public Schools, including bilingual classes, and worked in the district’s central office. It led to an opportunity to work with others on proposals that created Boston International High School and then Newcomers Academy.
More Teaching, More Learning
“The road to doing well is up to us,” Tony says.
He says the school having autonomy over its own curriculum is critical.
When asked why the school has such high outcomes for English language learners, he points to three key elements.
First, the school can pick its own teachers. “The most important thing about our teachers is that they want to work at this school,” Tony says. About 30-percent of the teachers are immigrants themselves. “I get to hire a more diverse staff that meets the needs of our specific students.”
Second, Tony says the school gets to think a lot about targeted support for individual students. This is especially relevant in a school environment where so many students face daily challenges related to poverty, homelessness, and other barriers to overcome.
Third, King credits more teaching and learning time with the higher results. The school offers after school programming, Saturday school, and February and April vacation school.
All these opportunities add up. Tony says a BINcA student taking the statewide Grade 10 MCAS tests this month would have received 100 hours of additional instructional time this year.
New Expectations, ‘Incredible’ Success
Not all of the school’s students are ready to graduate in four years.
Nyal Fuentes, a college and career learning specialist at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, says the school has embraced the prospect that it might take some students five years to graduate.
“They are graduating kids at incredible rates in five years,” Nyal says. “BINcA has an asset-based model around language and student development that you don’t see everywhere.”
A Focused Effort to Raise Graduation Rates
Massachusetts education department officials have long been aware of BINcA’s success and the strength of its approach to increasing outcomes for English language learners.
Recently, the department was one of three recipients of a $200,000 grant from Pearson and America’s Promise Alliance as part of the GradNation State Activation initiative. It’s an effort is a collaborative one to increase high school graduation rates to 90 percent.
Massachusetts is using its grant money to support a multi-year effort to raise the statewide graduation rates and improve outcomes for students whose first language is not English, known as FLNE student.
The Department is working closely with ten school districts, including Boston, to support their local efforts and network them to information, resources, and technical assistance.
‘In Awe of the Students’
Pearson CEO John Fallon visited BINcA during a recent trip to Boston.
John was impressed by the school’s leadership, its excellent teachers, and the collaborative learning community he observed.
Mostly, he left in awe of the students. “You could teach us about intrapersonal skills,” John told them. “Your resilience, your grit and ability to overcome, I am so impressed.”
Helping Other Schools to Transform Students and Improve Outcomes
Others are taking notice as well.
In December, Stanford University published a report on six high schools across the country delivering higher than average outcomes for English language learners. BINcA was one of the six schools highlighted in the report.
Headmaster Tony King is quick to note, though, that the school is still working hard to improve.
Still, students who will graduate this year are well on their way to success.
Ronald, one of the students from Haiti, says he loves engineering and math—and will enroll at a local college in the fall.
“I came here because in my country, what I want is not there,” Ronald says. “I came here because if I work hard and go to college, I can be the person I want to be.”